Former NZ Fire Service national commander Mike Hall was the pilot of a light plane that crashed in the Tararua Ranges, killing both occupants.
The light plane was reported missing after departing from Foxton's Foxpine Airfield on Sunday before being found on Monday with the bodies of two people inside.
The student pilot has been named by police as Norman Alan Comerford, 44, of Paekakariki.
The plane took off on a training flight around 2.15pm and was reported missing at 8pm on Sunday night, a Maritime NZ spokesperson said.
The private flight was heading to Paraparaumu.
Foxpine Airfield operator Keven Roberts said they appeared to be heading towards Masterton for training.
The Herald has learned the pilot was Hall, the former boss of the NZ Fire Service, which has since been re-named Fire and Emergency NZ.
Hall, 70, of Te Horo, was not only a well-respected pilot but former colleagues say he was also a respected firefighter and boss.
He was the owner of a plane but it's understood he was not flying it at the time of the crash.
Former colleagues have expressed their shock at his death and said he was a well-accomplished pilot but some didn't realise he had become an instructor.
"It is quite a shock ... he was a pretty supportive boss."
There was a sombre mood amongst Hall's old workmates today, they said and added the only positive out of it, was that he died doing what he loved.
Hall, who moved to New Zealand in 2001, was named a companion of the Queen's Service Order in the New Years Honours of 2011 for services to the state.
Hall had steered staff through some of the country's large scale disasters, including the Christchurch earthquakes.
He was also in charge during the Icepak Coolstore blaze in Tamahere, south of Hamilton, in 2008 a blast which killed senior firefighter Derek Lovell.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Comerford said he was the chief technology officer at Wellington company Snapper Services, and spoke of his love of flying and family.
"I enjoy a quiet life with my family, in our semi-permanent state of home renovation, and I'm training to be a pilot. My kids are heading to college soon, and that means more time spent in the sky which makes me happy."
Roberts earlier told the Herald the instructor, who was from Kāpiti, had been carrying out flight training from Foxpine for the last six months and was a highly experienced and respected pilot.
"He was very cautious," he said. "If anything was going wrong he would have taken control immediately."
Fire and Emergency New Zealand Chief Executive Rhys Jones said they were "deeply saddened by this tragic event and our thoughts are with the Hall family".
"Mike Hall was the New Zealand Fire Service Chief Executive and National Commander from May 2001 until his retirement in December 2011, following a 30-year firefighting career in Australia.
"He made a significant contribution to the New Zealand Fire Service throughout this time. In 2012 he was made a Companion of the Queen's Service Order for his leadership in helping to transform the New Zealand Fire Service into a national fire and rescue service."
Roberts said he didn't believe the tragedy was likely to have been caused by pilot error and was more likely to have been due to a malfunction of some kind, or the rapidly changing environment of the Tararua Ranges.
The student pilot was on his last flight before getting signed off as a pilot.
The pair were in an aircraft called a Tecnum, an "ultralight" plane.
It's understood the light weight of the plane could quickly alter its flying capability if weather conditions suddenly changed.
Hall moved from his native northern England to Australia in 1974 before making his way through the ranks of the fire service in Queensland.
He crossed the Tasman with references not only from the Queensland Fire and Rescue Authority, but also, significantly, from the Australian United Firefighters Union.
"Mike is a person who is always up-front and tells it like it is," the UFU's Queensland secretary, Mark Walker, told the Herald in 2001. "In my view, he is one of the few commissioners who could be trusted at his word."